67 Wine is one of the iconic wine and spirit stores in Manhattan. It was founded in 1941 by Joel Weiser and it is still a family owned business. His son owns it today. There is an inventory of over 8,000 bottles. They have a first class selection of aged and current wines, a well-oiled site for internet sales www.67wine.com and a very efficient distribution service. There are two floors of good value wines mingling with the jewels. At one end of the upstairs section there is a super new stainless steel tasting table with a spittoon and ice bucket built in. An impressive operation, however it is as a retailer of Israeli wines that they caught my interest.
It is one of the first liquor stores in the city, to create an Israeli section separate from the Kosher wine section. So whilst the Kosher wines can be found downstairs, of course along with a good selection of Israeli kosher wines, the non-kosher Israeli wines may be found in the more generously spaced upstairs, in its own section.
I always believe that the Israeli brand should stand on its own, whether kosher or not kosher. Kosher is not a country and Israel is not an island, so our true place must be be alongside the wines of the Eastern Mediterranean countries like Greece, Cyprus, Lebanon and Turkey on both wine lists in a restaurant and on the shelves of wine shops. You can add to that North Africa, if Moroccan or Tunisian wine is present and even the Middle East, if Syrian and Jordanese wine are listed. Don’t mock, they all have good wines, but realistically we are talking about the Eastern Med countries, and in particular Greece, Lebanon and Israel. To me that makes a fascinating region, with the history of the birth of wine culture in its midst.
The Israeli wines at 67 Wine are situated next to Californian Merlots for some unfathomable reason, instead of being part of their region. However Liquor stores in New York City are notorious for a lack of space. They are not that big and suffer from enormous inventory. This is undoubtedly the reason.
However as a symbol and an example to other stores, 67 Wine should be frequented, praised and encouraged for it is at the forefront of a change in the way Israeli wines are marketed in this top heavy kosher wine market economy. Despite the advances of Israeli wine, it has been well-nigh impossible to get out of the Kosher section, especially in East Coast America where the Kosher consumer is so dominant. The Kosher section is normally at the back of the store by the toilets or rest room and the quality table wines often mingle with Kiddush wines like Manischewitz, Mogen Dovid and Kedem. Over fifty percent of Israeli exports go to America. It is the country not only with the most sales and but also with the most potential for future, incremental sales. However Israeli wine is submerged by Kosher which kind of defines our image.
However, now 67 Wine believes Israel should be considered like every wine producing country.
The person, or rather the pioneer, responsible for this change is Sadie Flateman. Curly, frizzy haired, with large bright, intelligent eyes and a shy smile, she is the modest and quiet buyer of wines from Portugal, the Loire, Beaujolais, Californian Whites and Merlot, Sake and dessert wines…and Israel of course. With a B.A. in Art History and past experience in Art Marketing, Production and Curation, she now has a B in her bonnet about advancing Brand Israel and making Israel known as a wine producing country like any other.
She is professional and well qualified. She has earned The Sommelier Society of America Certification Diploma and the WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Level 3 Award in Wines and Spirits. She is also a certified Sake Specialist. The specialist buyer in 67 is also a marketer and seller as she works seamlessly with the other experts on the floor. I noticed no customer waited long and the expertise in this store is thorough yet modestly used. The knowledge here is well above the Manhattan norm. Sadie puts it well: “I am honored to be a Buyer at one of New York’s oldest and most historic wine shops. It is a privilege to be in the presence of this caliber of wine professionals and customers, who teach me so much daily.”
This slight, rather delicate looking woman must have steel running through her veins. She recently went a step further. She organized an Israeli Wine Symposium, which was three years in the planning. She visited Israel, talking up her unlikely dream, but this impressive lady, through passion and determination, not through a position of authority or with any budgets to speak of, made it happen. She persuaded the Temple Emanu-El Skirball Center to host it. In short no less than 300 people purchased the tickets and attended the symposium. First there was a lecture and presentation. Then eleven importers of Israeli wines offered tastings from over fifty wineries. What was particularly notable, it was an occasion when specialist kosher importers mixed with general market wine importers and kosher wines intermingled with non-kosher wines. As such it was a unique event. It was totally Sadie’s initiative and it was only her drive and determination that made the event a success.
When one meets Sadie one begins to understand. Her love of art, production and curating comes together at the table. She is a real foodie. She fell in love with Slow Food concept at the age of 17 years old. Eating out with her parents was part of growing up. She really sees the food and wine business as an art form with their enjoyment as a kind of production offering entertainment. She loves to educate, inform and elevate the wine drinking experience.
It was only in 2011 that she began to work at 67 because she wanted a job. She only took on Californian Merlot and the Kosher section because no-one else wanted them. By 2014 she was moving Israel out of the Kosher section. When she visited Israel for the first time she visited twenty five wineries. This is not a lady that does things by halves. She paid her respects to the Golan Heights Winery “where it all started” and particularly loved the quirky, edgy, more individualistic wineries, like Clos de Gat and Shvo.
She returned frustrated at how Israel sold itself in America and wanted to create change. In her words she “decided to do something and be a bridge.” And she did. Now she is already planning the next step.
Brand Israel is critical to the advance of Israeli wine. The word itself is more important than Yarden, Carmel, Castel or any individual winery name. This calls for more support from those government and wine authorities with budgets and for the wineries to put aside ego and self interest, to work together for the greater good. Israeli wine is such a positive ambassador for Israel…and you can’t give a bottle of hi tec as a present. However wine organization here, is dysfunctional, to say the least. All the positive developments so far have been individual winery led. So until we get our act together, we need to support the Sadie Flatemans of this world. They can teach us how it is done.
As an afterthought, I can’t resist passing on another tidbit about the 67 Store, which tickled and amused me. Apart from the professionalism and the smoothness of the 67 operation, my favorite part of the store is the sign outside saying dogs are welcome. If they come in they will get a treat. When you enter the store, you see why. Two small dogs are resident in the store and run the roost. In fact I believe they are the true managers. If you visit, Mookie and Shay may not be able recommend the best Cru Beaujolais, but they will definitely provide a warm welcome and a wag.
Adam Montefiore has been advancing Israeli wines for over 30 years. He is known as ‘the ambassador of Israeli wine’ and the ‘English voice of Israeli wine’.